On different occasions –including the eight edition of World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) –leaders have reiterated the need to have universal, but most importantly, affordable internet for all. Currently, 3.6 billion people are still offline, most of them in low-income countries and therefore, are excluded from the digital promises. “Universal, affordable, and accessible connectivity underpins our individual and collective efforts in industrialisation, building digital economy, and ensuring that the youth have access to information and access to jobs created through the new future of work,” notedPaula Ingabire, Minister for ICT and Innovation, during the launch of the WTDC on June 6. “We used to say that the future is digital, now, we must accept that the present is already digital.” A major prerequisite to access opportunities in this digital era is access to good-quality, reliable, affordable, and safe internet connectivity. According to the State of Mobile Internet Connectivity report of 2021, In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 28 per cent of the population are connected to broadband, 19 per cent are not covered with mobile internet and the usage gap is as high as 53 per cent. This is mainly due to limited affordability. On this account, 45 per cent of people living in the same region use feature phones, 36 per cent use 3G smartphones, and 12 per cent use 4G/5G smartphones. Rural-urban internet use gap remains significantly high, reads the report. Yet, millions of people across the continent rely on the internet to connect with their family, and loved ones, do business, access healthcare information and other activities. In Rwanda, during the fourth quarter of 2021, only 1,943,786 smartphones were operational or active (approximately 15 per cent of the entire population), according to data from Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA). This is while internet penetration was at 66 per cent as of the end of 2021, however, recently, MPs tasked the ICT ministry to find out why only 22 per cent of people are satisfied with the internet. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that $428 billion additional funding is needed over the next 10 years to connect everyone to quality broadband by 2030. But to be successful, “this funding needs to be paired with effective policy, strong planning and effective implementation, which includes urgent investments in the digital skills, content and enabling policy frameworks that are critical to support access to meaningful connectivity,” according to the report. The boundary between connected and unconnected translates into clear consequences for employment, education, family and social life, and access to information. Need for national broadband plans According to the 2020 Affordability report by Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), there is a need to have National Broadband Plans; with interests of making public investments more effective, encouraging private sector investments, and creating new partnerships and sources of accountability It highlights that Rwanda has an effective national broadband planning which reduced the cost of 1GB data to less than a fifth of 2015 price, from 20.2 per cent to 3.39 per cent of average monthly income. Malaysia, Colombia, and Costa Rica, all stand out with the highest three scores for national broadband planning by meeting the UN Broadband Commission’s ‘1 for 2’ affordability threshold — 1GB data for no more than two per cent of average monthly income. Consumers in relatively cheap markets can purchase mobile data more regularly than in other costlier markets, providing the platform for banks, fintechs and other service providers to develop digital services specifically to meet their needs. Johnny Kayihura, the chief executive at Axiom Networks, an internet service provider operating in Rwanda and other regional countries, said that having affordable broadband requires an increase in volume of internet demand. He added that the government needs to slash the cost of distribution in the country, “The price of distribution was set in 2015 and up to date, it has never changed. Especially with the Korea telecom that is managing local fibres.” However, he added that having competition in the local market –the likes of Liquid Telecom, Canal Plus –is a good thing, leading to the drop in prices. Infrastructure, digital literacy impedes connectivity The lack of enabling infrastructure, including lack of access to reliable electricity, has been a major hurdle to broadband adoption in many African countries, according to A4AI report. It is estimated that 45 per cent of Africans live farther than 10 kilometres from the network infrastructure essential for online education, finance and healthcare services. Not only that, the digital divide and gender gap in access have been characterised mainly by lack of digital literacy as well as access to digital devices. However, in Rwanda, strides are being taken including; the Connect Rwanda Challenge – a campaign that seeks to mobilise people to contribute to providing smartphones to Rwandans who cannot afford them, is expected to drive up access to smartphones. And, the Digital Ambassadors Programme that aims to introduce five million citizens to digital literacy and opportunities through the use of e-Government and e-Business services.